Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Continuation of thought about Derrida (Paris 11.12.2004)

Hommage à Jacques Derrida

L'École des hautes études en sciences sociales rendra hommage à Jacques Derrida, Directeur d'études, le samedi 11 décembre 2004, à la

Maison des Cultures du Monde,
101 boulevard Raspail
75006 Paris,

de 9 heures 30 à 13 heures.

Tribute to DERRIDA - a continuation of thought was made possible by an exchange of opinion with Sonja Skarstedt, publisher and poetess living in Montreal, Canada. Since she died August 4, 2009, may this be also a tribute to her.

Sonja Skarstedt responded to my tribute to Derrida with following words:

"Thank you for that thought-provoking "duet" of essay tributes to Derrida: Taylor's succinct, and your expansive analyses of a life richly-lived and so often misunderstood. Derrida was such an "original" -- and human nature is such that it fears the unknown, to the extent where many will blindly and inaccurately pick at the fruit of a dynamic and exploratory mind. Something which must have made Derrida smile more than once -- as he would no doubt be doing, upon reading and mulling the many threads of ideas being brought together in your essay -- and something which must have spurred him to further refinements of his infinite-spanning theory."

Sonja A. Skarstedt
Montreal 22.10.2004

My reply to Sonja went as follows:

Athens 24.10.2004

(slightly modified 27.11.2004, in view of the 'hommage' to be given to Derrida on the 11th of December in Paris)

Dear Sonja,

I am pondering about your understanding of the circumstances surrounding Derrida. You articulate at the flash of a moment such empathy and perception that several themes are enunciated upon. Most important of all is what you name as "the fear of the unknown". With regards to Derrida, that should include his saying, that 'he does not know who will inherit his thoughts.' Yes, he is convinced that he will leave some general traces behind. What shall be his impact upon the French language, the language he learned to love once he had arrived like A. Camus from Algier in France, that is another matter. But as student of Michel Foucault, he meant, as you describe it so well, a fear "to the extent where many will blindly and inaccurately pick at the fruit of a dynamic and exploratory mind", and therefore risk to produce even more misunderstandings.

Wittgenstein complained about that as well. Hence he demanded accordingly to be understood in the way he meant it when saying something.

The same thing said Adorno when he came into conflict with students wishing to leave theory behind and just do 'actions'; he warned them, if you pick just one thing out of a complexity of connections and relationships and act upon it alone, it will lead to but reactionary developments in denial of multiple differences.

Yes, Derrida has been misunderstood already during his life time, so what will be the case now that he is dead? It will be important what shall be said on 11th of December in Paris! And in other writings which shall follow for sure very soon or later, much later, that is once people have understood how he lived, will they be just to how he sensed life in all of its complexity and understood why he tried to reach out to Celan, especially to Paul Celan?

You give a very illustrative example of how it is possible to bridge the gap between the active mind and those who have a constant feeling of being left behind. I mean the passage where you imagine him smiling when seeing my tribute. Thanks for such a compliment.

I suppose that often the misunderstanding between an intellect and the rest of the people is that some others exploit moments of hesitation in the communication, in order to drive a wedge between intellectual challenges and basic human understanding.

If we look back at the recent US elections, then Bush is such a wedge driver. Kerry wanted always to say "things are not that simple", but the fear of the complex is maintained. Bush derided Kerry in the debate by saying, 'see, there he goes again!' Bush meant he can give a clear cut answer to abortion not being allowed, whereas Kerry agreed, but then hesitated and took it back once he considered what would he do if his own daughter would have been raped and as a result became pregnant? Bush said in politics there is no place for 'maybe, yes! Maybe, no!' Of course, politics is about driving the opponent into a corner, yet there has to be done as well justice to the complexity of the issue involved.

Having said that, communication experts and those impatient with complicated and long winded explanations drive nowadays debates towards such over simplifications, as if that would be sufficient for an understanding of things. Here the need to get a simple message across, that is as well an adaptation to how modern media works. Everything has to be fast, outspoken, to the point, a catchy phrase, something people can grasp immediately and yet not be bothered by any further.

No, such a communication marginalises first the mind, then the laughter and finally the people till we are all left behind when power takes over and replaces politics with strategies. It is that simple.

Talk about over simplifications, the media is the message. Everything has to be said in three simple sentences and that within 35 seconds because then another break or rather commercial shall interrupt the conversation. By the time everyone returns to where things were left off, things have gone on and much has been forgotten as to what had been said just before the break for the commercial. Instead of the talk about the war in Iraq, you have the weather report, business news and the latest from the World of Golf. People no longer connect their short with the long term memory as Freud explained by referring to his metaphorical 'wonder bloc'. But without memory, no differentiation can be reached in any debate and therefore the substance of the issue(s) shall never be addressed. That means 'practical judgement' never comes to word. It is that simple.

All CNN commentators who made analysis and evaluations of the three debates, they did so according to which 'buzz' words left a mark or rather a deep impression. Kerry's use of the word 'global test' for US foreign policy was such an example. Rove, the Republican strategist, had a field day because Kerry could be tainted as if suggesting giving up American sovereignty to the United Nations. It was a clear misunderstanding of Kerry's intention, namely to show more consideration to the opinions of other world governments and to the people of the world prior to the USA deciding again alone whether to go to war or not.

But let us be clear: in today's world, if people are not worried and then things do go wrong, it is not misunderstanding but the outcome of war. Realism and pragmatic opportunism (keeping your mouth shut in order not to jeopardize your job) is but one thing, quite another the systematic negation of common understanding.

Call it 'public diplomacy' instead of outright propaganda, still people are confused by those who call themselves politicians while staying only focused on what seems to matter most, namely to be re-elected. If that is the sole interest, then there is nothing left or rather no politician will take a stand to uphold human decency and morality.

It was important what Derrida had to say about the Israeli politics and the crisis in the Middle East. He was worried by the negation of common understanding as human bond. Its loss seems to be linked to the kind of anti-intellectualism which has marked politics ever since the Athenian polis sentenced Socrates for having mislead the youth, and then he faced only two alternatives: going into exile or else death. He chose the latter as the smaller of the two evils.

After a recent two day conference in Volos about the Argonauts and what archaeological evidence there is to retrace the past, I have become convinced that much of our history is a profound lie. It extends itself to the countless defeats of people left stranded in colonies or in exile. The fate of the Greek Diaspora marks that question, but how do these communities survive, if at all? It seems that the making of man's history towards nation states and thereafter to some kind of global confusion as to how we manage to live together on just one globe, that has all the making to be but an operational way to deflect from a deeply disturbing question: what about the continuity of life? No where there seems to be any real sign of continuity for while no lessons are learned from the past and wars are repeated, it seems that no culture is ever supported in a way that it would allow it to attain some consistency within its own measure of time and understanding.

That search for such human understanding I noticed when reading the biography of Gaughin. He felt that he was only then accepted by the natives once they could play a joke on him. It was during a Tuna fish hunting expedition that happens twice a year. After begging many times to be taken along, finally he was allowed to go with them fishing. But once he had started to fish and every time he caught a fish, a huge laughter went through the boat. He did not understand why. Once ashore again, he took aside one of his friends and begged him to explain why everyone had laughed.

The friend asked: "but did you not notice?"

"Notice what?", Gaughin asked.

The friend replied: "Whenever you caught the fish, the hook was not in the upper but in the lower lip. That is very unusual!"

"What does that mean?"

"We have a saying: whenever that happens, your wife has been unfaithful."

Gaughin did not wait for another explanation but rushed back immediately to his hut where he grapped immediately his new wife of sixteen years, in order to question her about faithfulness. When the others saw him do that, they laughed even louder! Then he understood. They had made a fool of him, but this prank meant as well that they had accepted him into their inner circle.

Nuances of meaning are difficult to understand but these subtle points need to be elevated upon before trying to interpret other things. This brings me back to your observations which are both astute and full of further thoughts. May I express my admiration for your way of putting things in such a way?

I think Derrida would have smiled as well.

As always it is good to receive from you a letter. You are such an amazing woman of letters. I am glad to be in correspondence with you. Your insights are like the most precious moments of human understanding and shall sketch the human horizon like the stars for further orientation.

hatto fischer


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